Monday, January 24, 2011

Quoth the raven, nevermore

          This past Saturday evening, I returned home from rehearsal and was informed that there was a bird in our bathroom. The details of how this actually came to be are still a bit fuzzy for me, but from what I can understand, my roommate was doing laundry in the basement and she cannot be sure, but she seems to have passed the bird on the back staircase unknowingly. What Hilary does know, is that the creature followed her into the house from the back staircase because upon reaching the top of the stairs, it flew through the kitchen, and then into the bathroom, at which point she closed the bathroom door behind it. 

          We think the bird had to have come from the basement but how the bird managed to get up two flights with no one noticing is remarkable. The first floor apartment below us has a back door but Hilary says that no one had opened it while she was there. After all, with it being 12 degrees in Boston on Saturday I don't believe our downstairs neighbors were looking to lounge on the back deck.

          So, this is how it stood upon my return: our only bathroom was occupied, so to speak. Hilary, who I come to find out is a bit afraid of birds, had already called Animal Control. When she dialed the number listed, she got the mayor's office and when she told them she thought she had dialed animal control, they said "We're closed." They said they might be able to send someone, but they couldn't be sure when this would happen. What if this had been more urgent? I guess rabid animals are only a problem on weekdays.

          We decided that someone just needed to calmly go in, move the shower curtain, move the window curtain, unlock the window and open it. I decided that I was up for the challenge. She told me she'd already called my boyfriend who was on his way anyway to pick us up for a friend's party. But, I'm no slouch- we didn't need a man to come swooping in to our rescue! Hilary told me I should probably put on leather gloves, in case it pecked at me, and a hat in case it flew in my hair. I was alarmed at these possibilities since neither had occurred to me. I decided I would agree to these precautions.

          So there I was in my knit beret and driving gloves, heading into our very small bathroom with Hilary holding a giant sheet standing in the hall behind. I opened the door. I did not see our feathered friend at first, but then I looked above to the shower head. I had pictured a sparrow. It was no sparrow. It was not as big as a crow, but it was no sparrow. It was brown with what seemed to be a very large curved beak. It immediately fluttered across to the other side of the shower, (which, by the way, was very loud), at which point I closed the door and started deep-breathing. I made another attempt at going in and opening the window, but did not last much longer before hyperventilating again. I made a third. This time he started flying toward the door. I closed the door. I decided that this was no longer a feminist issue. Brendan would be able to handle this much better than I. His parents have a parakeet.
          Having completely justified my wussiness, when Brendan arrived, there were now three very frightened beings in the house. He suggested we go in with a little bit of bread and make a trail of sorts toward the window after he had opened it. Brendan went in, armed with bread pieces. He closed the door and very calmly narrated the events as he saw them, as one might to an infant.

          "Ok, he's just afraid of me. When I get close, he flies away. Ok, I'm moving the curtain back. Oh wait, where'd he go? Oh, he's on top of the medicine cabinet. I'm opening the window. I'm spreading out the bread. I'm just going to sit down for a minute until he goes back to the shower to avoid me. Ok, everything's fine buddy..."

           The bird made no immediate effort to fly the coop but with the window open and Brendan's safe exodus from the bathroom complete, we decided we had better leave and head to the party. (Don't think that this decision wasn't strongly motivated by the fact that I was beginning to really need to pee). So with some trepidation about leaving the window fully open, we decided that no one was going to break in through a second floor window above a snow bank, and if they did, they might still find that our home was being guarded by a bird.

          And sure enough, when Hilary returned later that night, she found our guest was still feeling quite at home on top of the showerhead. Fortunately, Hil had used the bathroom at the party before she left. As we suspected, it wasn't until daylight that the bird figured out that the window opened to the outside. Poor thing. No one said he was a smart little fella.

          We suspect that this all happened due to a hole in the basement wall which the dryer vent has recently detached from. This marks just another thing on a small list of to-do's that the management has yet to handle, along with fixing their phone line so we can even call them. I tried to fix the dryer vent myself but I lack the necessary tools, not to mention the handy gene.
Fortunately, the bird was kind enough to only defecate in the shower. I have had other houseguests who weren't even so well housebroken.

Friday, January 14, 2011

As close to 80's hair band as opera gets...

          I often find myself telling people that no, I did not come from a musical family. And in the strict sense of the definition, this is true. My mother played some piano and a dusty 45 year old trumpet sits in the basement because she could never get it to sound like anything other than “a dying cow” according to her parents. She also was asked, rather cruelly, to lip-synch during her eighth graduation because she was “throwing the whole choir flat”. My father can basically carry a tune. My brother had a passion for music and the recording process, but after his voice dropped, a range of about three notes. There were tales of how several of my great-grandparents were good singers, one of whom was a cantor in the Ukrainian church, which was and is always sung a cappella. It wasn’t until recently that my Dad came across a second cousin at a funeral who had had a professional singing career in Raleigh for many years, that we discovered a pocket of his cousins were musicians. The aptitude was certainly not evident in my immediate family.

          I definitely did not hear much opera as a child, if any, until my great-aunt Josephine exposed me to it as a pre-teen. And yet, all that seems to have mattered was that I grew up in a household that cared about many different kinds of music. I can remember all of us sitting in the car until the end of Don McLean’s “America Pie” was finished on the radio. My father has an eclectic record collection, mostly made up of jazz, blues, and folk recordings, but also Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven and a good amount of Stravinsky. We watched a lot of movie musicals with my mom, but my mother turns up her nose at most popular music in the same way she prefers Masterpiece Theater (a.k.a. British soap-operas) to American sit-coms. (“I am not interested in the struggles of middle-America”). The only exception for a good song in her mind is that it be good for dancing. “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seegar is one that will get them both on their feet every time.

          So it is this penchant for PBS that brought us several musical excerpts that might have inspired a pursuit of opera. I was exposed to one oratorio. My Mom’s favorite recording; The Morman Tabernacle Choir’s Handel’s Messiah, once got caught in the car’s tape player for six months after Christmas. The Nutcracker also has had a profound effect on me, or was it Mikhail Baryshnikov? Only recently was his 1977 version for PBS made available again on Amazon. (Before this, there was the running joke that if my house were on fire, I always knew the exact location of my beloved VHS copy and it would be Micsha and me running out the door.) Just as important to my music memories was something that I no longer know if we still own. Because my mom is not one to listen to an album in its entirety, preferring only her favorite tracks on repeat ad nauseam, (see also: Feliz Navidad all December long), with the invention of the VCR in the 80’s, she had a video of her favorite song clips from TV. These will not be your typical 80’s hairband selections. Both of my parents stopped paying attention to any pop music basically past 1969. They couldn’t name a single Led Zeppelin song, and when I once asked my mother to name 3 artists from the 80’s, after 10 minutes she could only come up with Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen. Rather, it was this video that I watched repeatedly as a toddler and that infiltrated my formative years. It featured a clip of Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy singing “Indian Love Call”, a smattering of Cajun music from the film “The Big Easy”, and a recording of Joe Williams singing “All of Me” in the film of the same name featuring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin dancing to the closing credits. It also featured this, which, now having found on YouTube can surely be explanation unto itself of just why I became an opera singer.

Samuel Ramey: Ol' Man River with chorus

          This is not technically opera repertoire, but surely there can be no one else quite like Samuel Ramey. Even now, having just re-discovered this, I am sitting here with my hair blowing back in shock and amazement at that damned instrument of his. HOW DOES HE DO IT? Known to his college roommates and beyond as “The Voice” Ramey is famous for possessing a huge bass for the very lyrical repertoire, but also an agile enough instrument to handle a great deal of moving coloratura. And, as the boyfriend points out, he is unlike any other bass in that there is a “tenor ring” to the voice. No, seriously, how does he do it???

          I also really like that they use the complete version with chorus from the original show. I still find Showboat to be unbelievably progressive in its racial commentary for 1927. Admittedly, the use of the word “darkies” here does cause a bit of a knee-jerk reaction in these times, but it was still, in my opinion, the first move into contemporary musical theatre drama. Before this, they were writing plots for the songs on Broadway and after this it was the story first. They talk a lot about Oklahoma and its breakthrough ballet, but I say that that is a lot of phooey next to the inter-racial couple featured for the first time in Show Boat, not to mention the introduction of wonderful black singing actors like Paul Robeson to national stages.
          This is concert singing at its very best. It’s no wonder I was inspired to pursue live, unplugged singing with orchestra at such a tender age. Thanks Mom.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I'll have a blue post-Christmas

          It took me a few days to pinpoint it, but I realized this past week or two that I have a good case of the post-Christmas blues (not to mention a lovely headcold). For me, there are no two more depressing times of year than the beginning of fall and the end of the holidays. I may identify with the New England approach to life, but I have never been the type who looks forward to the first snowfall of the season and I am certainly not clicking my heels by the end of February when I am so vitamin D deprived that I can't see straight. That's what my "Happylite" is for. (The boyfriend makes fun of the name when I reference it, but that is its actual name!)

          Why do we as a culture need Christmas? Even the non-religious can appreciate its beauty. It can't only be nostalgia. No one seems to need Easter nearly as much. It all must have to do with our primitive fears of dark and threatening weather and a desire to fill an otherwise cold and isolated time with light and closeness. I wish I could say that these are all irrelevant primitive fears, but even in this age of technology, travel is greatly compromised by snow and ice. The aspect that has changed only adds to my sense of disappointment when the holiday is over. The commercialism that adds to the frenetic pace of December only makes me feel as though I have been running around too much to appreciate the season.

          As an adult, the end of Christmas and the New Year can be particularly devastating because of all the stress beforehand. When all the running around with auditions, the shopping, the gigs, the parties and the travel come to a slowdown, one wants time to take in that warm glow that we have created to comfort ourselves as we reach the winter solstice's longest nights of the year and the cold ahead of us. This year I did not get to sit with a cup of tea and stare at the tree we trimmed at my parents' house for nearly long enough before I had to practically fly out of the house the morning after Christmas in fear of the impending blizzard. I look around now that I finally have some time to stroll and appreciate some Christmas scenery and it has almost all been dismantled. When my friend from California moved here for grad school, it wasn't until her first May in Boston that she said: "Now I realize why there are so many songs about spring."